Thursday, May 29, 2008

Meldrum Visits

One of the advantages of business travel is that, now and again it can fit in well with some personal matters. I had come to Aberdeen for meetings, but I had several hours before I could check into my hotel and the meetings did not start until the next day, so I was able to make a couple of personal visits.

First, I had the pleasure of visiting Mrs. Hazel Sim’s P5 class at Meldrum Primary, some of whom had taken part in the unveiling ceremony for the Battle of Barra memorial.
But first I had to figure out how to get into the school! Things had changed since my boys went there, so after some driving around I had to ask the “lollypop lady” (crossing guard for Americans), how to get in. However I finally made it, and received a warm welcome from Hazel and her class. The class had recently completed a project on “Wallace and Bruce”, and the told me about it and showed some of the things they had made. We spoke about the Battle of Barra and I told them about the “blog” and answered some questions. I also heard about plans for a future activity where they will learn more about Barra Hill and the battle.
I hope it will be possible to provide a report on this in a later post and to show some of the work the class did for their project.
Thanks to Hazel and P5 for a great visit.

Next I had my “fly cup” (a mid-morning or afternoon cup of tea) with Moira Gregg, the author of an article on the battle, in “Scottish Field”, featured in an earlier post. Moira, whose home is at the base of Barra Hill, and overlooks the Bruce Field, told me about her decision to start writing and how it was so natural to write about these events which had taken place almost in her own garden. She was full of praise for the MBHS, their work on the memorial, and the information provided by various members for the article. We discussed the history a bit, and the fact that her problem with the article became, “what to leave out”, because of the wealth of information available. Although Moira is quick to point out she is no historian, she has produced a wonderful, short and concise article on the battle, which has helped reach a much wider audience, and increase awareness of the battle’s importance to the history of Scotland.
I plan to share some of her pictures in a later post.
Thanks Moira, for your hospitality.

I also spoke with Evelyn and was delighted to receive an invitation to meet with members of the MBHS, at her house on Friday. I am really looking forward to this and will post the details later.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Houston.....Meldrum Base here...... The Tyauve has landed

Well I made it here safe and well.
I landed on typically dreich NE day.
I was sitting on the plane wating for my first glimse of Scotland, and with all the mist and cloud, it was some time in coming. We broke through the cloud somewhere over Meldrum, and through the mist and rain I could see the patchwork of fields, many of them the bright yellow of oilseed rape, and many more edged with yellow whin or broom, as the plane made its final approach.
After getting my car and digging out my waterproof jacket, I set off for Meldrum. I drove by and had my first view of the Memorial, the weather not showing it at its best, but it as great to see it "in the flesh". I had lunch at the Redgarth, ( )which was the same as I remember, with my son Neil, and then arranged to meet some people. (reports on that in later posts).

Monday, May 26, 2008

Meldrum Visit

I am heading out tomorrow for Scotland, and a visit to Oldmeldrum, so my next post will be from Aberdeen. I am looking forward to visiting the memorial and meeting some of the people involved.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Now's the day, and now's the hour

Well the big day has finally arrived, and once more Evelyn has done a great job of getting pictures and providing the following report.

"Hi Jim
Here are the photos. It was a bit difficult to take photos today with lots of people weilding cameras & moving about.
The unveiling ceremony was very meaningful and quite moving with the Saltire waving nearby in the breeze and the Lion Rampant covering the memorial. A fair crowd had gathered, including photographers from the Press & Journal, Inverurie Herald and Inverurie Advertiser.
Gillian Smith, in highland dress, set the ceremony in motion playing the bagpipes and as you can imagine it was stirring stuff for the soul.
Akki Manson, MBHS chairman, welcomed the crowd that had gathered then John Pirie related the story of the stone and the background to the battle.
The Meldrum primary pupils in their red school jumpers were a delight to behold as they whipped off the Lion Rampant to reveal Bruce's Seat and enjoy a round of applause.
All those who had helped in the project were thanked and then Gillian again played a selection of Scottish traditional tunes before all those who had contributed made their way to the Royal British Legion where Jim Presly, MBHS events' convener, had laid on a lavish array of refreshments which had been prepared by his wife Alice and daughters Karen & Angie.
I can safely say that the morning was greatly enjoyed by everyone, especially the schoolchildren, and we are all proud that we now have a memorial to commemorate the Battle of Barra.

It's such a shame you couldn't have been here.

Will be in touch soon.

All the best,

Memorial Day

Declaration of Arbroath
NAS: State Papers: SP13/7
(C) Property of the National Archives of Scotland, H.M. General Register House, Edinburgh, EH1 3YY. The information contained on this WWW site is Crown Copyright but may be reproduced without formal permission or charge for personal or in-house use.

An interesting thought has occurred to me as I am working on the materials for the Battle of Barra blog. Here in the US we are preparing for the Memorial Day weekend which commemorates the men and women who have died in the service of the US.
At the same time in Oldmeldrum a memorial was being unveiled to commemorate the events of seven hundred years ago.

Following the victory at Barra the Scottish cause moved from strength to strength, and resulted in the production of one of the great historical documents, the Declaration of Arbroath.
Whether this document was simply “Bruce” propaganda or a real reflection of the thinking of the ruling class of Scotland of the day is open to debate, but its words have rung across the centuries, influencing Scottish and world thinking.
One phrase is especially evocative:

“It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom – for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself.”
Four hundred years later descendants of these authors carried this concept to the new world, and many people see the influence of the Arbroath document in the American Declaration of Independence.
So; maybe as Americans observe Memorial day they can spare a thought for the unknown Scottish soldiers who’s sacrifice may have contributed to the founding ideals of their country.

The Final Preparations

As promised here are the pictures detailing the final stages of the work on the memorial

Gubbed in the Garioch

The most widely used accounts of events have Robert mounting his horse, although he required the help of two men along side to hold him up, and leading his small army towards Oldmeldrum, and the Earl’s army.
What follows can hardly be dignified by the name “Battle”.
When informed by his scouts that the King was approaching the Earl, formed his men up in order of battle, with his better troops in the front rank, but when they saw the King coming on steadily with banners flying they started to waver. On seeing this, the King’s veterans pressed on sensing an easy victory, and so it was to prove. The front ranks continued to give way, and at this the rear ranks started to flee, and realising they were alone; the front rank broke and fled. What happened next was in line with other medieval battles where the victors fall upon the routed, and there is general slaughter, with huge casualty figures. Barbour tells us that only those with good horses got away. Of the leaders the Earl of Buchan and John de Moubray fled first to Fyvie castle and then to the coast to take ship to England, and David de Brechin south to his castle in Brechin.

Bot quhen thai saw the nobill king
Cum stoutly on foroutyn fenyeing
A litill on bridill thai thaim withdrew
And the king that rycht well knew
That thai war all discomfit ner
Pressyt on thaim with his baner
And thai withdrew mar and mar
And quhen the small folk thai had thar
Saw thar lordis withdraw them sua
Thai turnyt the bak all and to-ga
And fled all scalty her and thar
The lords that yeyt togydder war
Saw that thar small folk war fleand
And saw the king stoutly command
Thai war ilkane abaysit swa
That thai the bak gave and to-go
A litill stound samyn held thai
And syne ilk man has tane his way
Fell never men sa foule mischance
Eftre sa sturdy countenance
For quhen the kingis company
Saw that thai fled sa foulyly
Thai chasyt thaim with all thair mayn
And sum thai tuk and sum has slayn
The remanand war fleand ay,
Quha had gud hors gat best away
Till Ingland fled the erle of Bouchquhane
Shyr Jhon Mowbray is with him gane
And were reset with the king (Edward II)


But when they saw the noble king
Come bravely on without hesitation
They withdrew a little “on bridle”
And the king who well knew
That they were close to defeat
Pressed on them with his banner
They retreated more and more
And when the small folk they had there
Saw their lords pull back like that
They turned and fled
Scattering here and there
The lords who were still together
Saw their small folk were fleeing
And saw the king bravely coming
Were each so dismayed
That they turned tail and went
They kept together for a short while
Then each man took his own way
There was never so miserable an outcome
After such a sturdy display
For when the king’s company saw
That they fled so disorderly
They chased them with all their might
Took some and killed others
The rest kept on fleeing
[the man] with a good horse got away best
The earl of Buchan fled to England
Sir John Mowbray going with him
And they were given refuge by the king

Barbour’s The Brus – Lines 255 – 283

From the Canongate 1997 Edition: Edited by A.A.M. Duncan

The above is the “Official” Bruce/Stuart version of events as supplied by their “spin doctor” [Archdeacon Barbour], I will look at some other scenarios and what may be more fun, the legends, in later posts.

  1. I know that Oldmeldrum is no longer administrativly in the Garioch, but I felt the historic Garioch connection justifies the title, and Formartine does not quite have the same “ring” to it.

  2. For those non Scots speakers, some explanation of the title may be required:
    “Gubbed” is normally used to denote a humiliating defeat.
    Also the Garioch (pronounced Gee ree) is administratively centered on Inverurie, see wikipedia link for details.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Latest

Just wanted to let everyone know that the hard work of the MBHS volunteers has paid-off, and the memorial site is ready for the anniversary on Friday, but you will have to wait until after the unveiling, to see the photographs.
All the best to those taking part and I hope the weather is kind
I plan to post one more historical note before Friday, and hope to be able to bring you pictures of the event later on Friday

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Today 1308

So having provided an update on the current activities, it is time to look at the events of 700 years ago. Unfortunately we do not have many hard facts regarding those events.
It appears that the Earl of Buchan had finally stirred himself to action and was moving against Robert’s Garioch base of operations with a force of around 1000 men. The composition of the force is unclear, but based on subsequent events; it would appear that most of the troops were of inferior quality. We do know the Earl was accompanied by David de Brechin and John de Moubray.
The Inverurie Bass

Meanwhile Robert’s force was at Inverurie, possibly at the Bass, which was the site of an older Motte and Bailey.
For a modern view see Colin Smith’s picture on the Geograph site

Comyn's Camp

Some accounts have the Earl’s force camping within the remains of a prehistoric hill fort on the summit of Barra hill, which still bears the name “Comyn’s Camp”.
For detailed location, see entry on Geograph site.

Whether this is fact or fiction is not clear, but what is known is that the Earl’s force was in the vicinity of the present day town of Oldmeldrum.
The engagement was opened by a clash between a mounted force under the command of David de Brechin, and the pickets of Robert’s force. It is not clear whether this was a reconnaissance in force which was deliberately seeking the enemy, or a chance encounter. Sir David’s men “ran into” the royal pickets, and drove them back onto the main force, he was then either driven off by or chose to retreat in the face of Robert’s main force. This is often portrayed as an initial defeat, but it shows that Robert had learned from Methven, where the royal army was surprised and routed. At Inverurie the pickets were deployed and performed their function, by allowing the main force time to assemble, forcing Sir David to retire.
Barbour tells us that the impudent attack caused the King to rise from his sick bed and lead his army to Barra.

Yhis, ‘said the King, ‘withoutyn wer,
Thar bost has maid me haile and fer,
For suld na medicyne sa sone
Haiff coveryt me as thai haiff done.
Tharfor, sa God himself me sa,
I sall other haiff thaim or thai me’.
Yes said the King, ‘without doubt
their insolence has made me hail and sound
For no medicine could have made me
Recover as quickly as they have done.
So as God is my witness,
I shall either have them or they me.

Barbour's The Brus - Lines 231 to 236
From the Canongate 1997 Edition: Edited by A.A.M. Duncan

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Memorial Progress

As promised in the last post, here are some more pictures showing the work progressing on the memorial site. I would like to again thank Evelyn for continuing to provide the updates, and to extend thanks to everyone who is working so hard to provide this memorial for future generations

Friday, May 16, 2008

Breaking Ground

Memorial Site

I was delighted to receive and e-mail from Evelyn with news of the progress on the memorial.
The stone, known as Bruce’s seat, had previously been moved from the rock pile, where it had lain for half a century, in preparation for becoming the centre piece of the memorial to the battle. It has now been moved to its permanent location. The picture above shows the digger breaking ground.
I hope to have more information and pictures for a later post.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Where Was the Battle Fought?

The Bruce Field

It has just, somewhat belatedly, occurred to me that I have been speaking about the Battle of Barra which took place 700 years ago and have given no clear indication of the location. So to remedy that, the generally agreed upon site is just outside the town of Oldmeldrum. 

For detailed location, see entry on the Geograph site.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

The Comyns 1

Click on image to enlarge

As you can see from the family tree, the Comyns, by the time of the War of Independence, were not only powerful because of their direct land holdings, but through a network of family connections. They were connected by marriage to Scottish royalty and many of the powerful families in both Scotland and England. How they rose to this position in a little over a century, and then fell within a decade, will be reviewed in a later post

Friday, May 9, 2008

Some Local News

I have just made contact with Meldrum & Bourtie Heritage Society, and was delighted to discover the contact was someone I had known from my years in Meldrum. Evelyn Munro had been a teacher at Meldrum Primary for many years and taught both my sons when they attended.
Evelyn was kind enough to pass on the details of the Society’s proposed activities for the upcoming commemoration of the 700th anniversary.
As well as telling me of the article in the current Scottish Field (See last post), she shared their plans for later this month.

Evelyn Said:

" …… We really need to raise awareness of the anniversary and a memorial has been far too long in materialising.

The other week ,Mr. Gordon Stephen, the man who farms Barra Hill organised for Bruce's Seat, reputed in legend to be the place where Robert the Bruce watched the battle from, to be taken down the Hill. MBHS will use it as the memorial.

The chair shaped stone used to sit by the minister's path which connected Meldrum & Bourtie but when the hill was ploughed up in the 1950s the stone was bulldozed into one of the heaps of stones which accumulated on the Hill. MBHS committtee member, Dr John Pirie of Prenton, South Road (maybe you know him) kept his eye on the location of the stone and it is down to his custodionship of the stone in its exile that it was easily located this year.

A site for it will be prepared on the north side of the Barra roundabout by MBHS committee member Doug Smith. The memorial will be unveiled along with a small concisely worded information board, by some pupils from Meldrum Primary at 11am on Friday 23rd May.
Meldrum Primary are also planning a celebration of the anniversary in June

An article on the Battle of Barra by Moira Gregg of Blankets has been published in the May issue of the Scottish Field. The Press & Journal are standing by to run a story & hopefully the local Inverurie papers will too.

Thanks for getting in touch.
All the best,
Evelyn "

For anyone wanting to contact the society their Facebook link is below.

Scottish Field

"Bruce and the Battle of Barra"

Thursday, May 8, 2008

The Campaign

Picture showing the remains of Elgin Castle By Anne Burgess
The last couple of posts have been background, so it is probably time to bring the details of the campaign up to date.
Having threatened Elgin castle, but failing to take it, Robert moved southward possibly planning to use his Garioch lands as a base to launch his assault on Buchan. At this point the King fell gravely ill, and his companions feared for his life. With Robert lying ill and his small band, possibly around 700, short of food, they encountered the Earl of Buchan’s force near Slioch. The royal force now under the command of Edward Bruce, assumed a defensive position in wooded country, with boggy ground protecting the approaches. There was apparently an inconclusive action on Christmas day, where the archers of both side “bickered”, with those of the royal army having the better of the exchanges. The Earl of Buchan withdrew, but returned again on New Year’s Eve. Edward Bruce had his brother placed in a litter and formed the force up and marched off. The earl was apparently so intimidated by this show of confidence that he made no effort to prevent the royal army leaving. They march to Strathbogie, present day Huntly, and from there to Inverurie where Robert was able to recover.
Some accounts have Robert lying sick in Inverurie, and only recovering in time for the decisive engagement at Barra, but others have him recovering and renewing the assault on the Comyn lands and menacing the Earl of Ross, during the spring of 1308.
It would appear that the early months of 1308, saw several strongholds captured, and destroyed by Robert or his followers, and a resumption of the mobile warfare that had characterised the campaign to date. Whether Robert was personally involved in actions as far a field as Dornoch and Elgin, is not clear, but undoubtedly the Bruce “Spin-doctors” would have tried to maximize his involvement.
Sometime in early April another attempt was made to take Elgin castle, but this was thwarted by the arrival of a force commanded by John de Moubray.
So by some time in May 1308 the royal army was encamped at Inverurie, and the stage was set for the final showdown.
The picture above is courtesy Anne Burgess, through a “creative commons license”.
The picture is from an excellent web
site which is a collaborative site aiming to have pictures for every grid square on the OS map of Great Britain. Well worth a look.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

So who were the bad guys?

Well !! - From earlier posts you may have the impression that the Bruces were, and that the Comyns, and their allies, were the patriots. However, later Bruce and Stuart histories eulogised Robert and vilified the Comyns, [More of them in a later post] which brings to mind a quotes from Winston Churchill:

“History is written by the victors.”

Setting aside the “spin” and the propaganda, we should judge the protagonists on their level of competence. To do this I would like to look at three letters written by Robert’s opponents between the summer of 1307 and the summer of 1308. They are presented by Dr. GWS Barrow in his Robert the Bruce.
The first of these letters to Edward I, (RB p172), written by a Scottish noble supporting the English, which Dr. Barrow dates as May 15th 1307 and suggests Alexander Abernethy as the possible author.
The author tells how the “good will” of the people is with him [Robert], and that if he can cross the Mounth he will find support there. He goes on to say “…..unless King Edward can send more troops for there are many people living loyally in his peace so long as the English are in power”
He finally talks of false preachers and a prophesy of Merlin predicting a Scottish/Welsh alliance.

The remaining letters were written to Edward II.

The second letter (RB p175), was written by the Earl of Ross, to which Dr. Barrow gives a probable date of November 1307.
He firstly speaks of Robert “coming with great power”, and despite mobilizing 3000 men for a fortnight, the Earl was powerless against him. Because the warden of Moray was away his men would not assist the Earl, so he, on the advice of “good men”, accepted a truce until June 1308.
He pleads for help – “May help come from you, our lord, if it please you, for in you, Sir, is all our hope and trust”…………..
He ends with – “Wherefore, dear lord, remember us and tell us what is your will on these matters of which we have given an account”
The third letter (RB p179), was written by John of Lorn, which Dr. Barrow dates around March 1308, but details events which pre-date those in the Earl of Ross’ letter.
He firstly speaks of being ill, and then details Robert’s approach of his lands, with 10,000 or 15,000 men, but he only had only 800 men to face him. He then claims Robert asked for a truce for a short time, which he granted and “……and I have got a similar truce until you send me help”
He then asks Edward to ignore the rumors that he has come to “Robert’s peace”, and pledges his allegiance. He then boast about his castles and galleys, and being ready to serve Edward. He states he cannot trust any of his neighbours, but goes on to say, ……..” As soon as you or your army come, then, if my health permits, I shall not be found wanting where lands, ships or anything else is concerned, but will come to your service”…….

So what can we tell from the letters?

It is clear that Robert was very active and was inspiring confidence in his supporters and doubt in his enemies. The Scottish nobles are clearly intimidated by his actions and although the estimates of Robert’s forces were probably exaggerated, (especially John of Lorn) to excuse the acceptance of truces, the perception of being outnumbered, may also be a factor of Robert’s highly aggressive and mobile style of warfare, which gave the impression of a much larger force.
The other consistent theme is the request for aid from the English King, one can sense the feeling of helplessness from the letters, the nobles are powerless in the face of Robert.
These men had consistently fought for the Scottish cause, but had been “ weight, measured, and found wanting”. It is clear that they were now broken men, and when faced with this new force were unable to withstand it, and too ideologically opposed to join it.
They had failed in their feudal obligations to King and country and would consequently be judged harshly by history.
Robert, although undoubtedly driven by personal ambition, proved to be competent and able, thus taking his rightful place as Scotland’s hero king